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THE NISQUALLY WATERSHED SALMON RECOVERY NEWSLETTER | WHAT’S INSIDE:
VOLUNTEERS: CHAMPIONS OF THE WATERSHED | 4
STEELHEAD HABITAT ASSESSMENT PROJECT | 6
NISQUALLY DELTA SEA LION STUDY | 8
Y I L - M E - H U n
S P R I N G 2 0 1 7
Yil-me-hu, Nisqually word that means
“the salmon dance, on its first arrival.”
The first fish ceremony — The first fish caught in the
spring was prepared in an earth pit stove, shared and eaten by
members of the village. The bones, left intact, were returned to the
river, pointing upstream. This display was symbolic. It meant that the
villagers were respectful to the fish spirits and wished that, because
the ceremony had been done correctly, many more fish would come
up the stream during that year. A dance followed the ceremony
called the “yil-me-hu,” a Nisqually word that means “the salmon
dance, on its first arrival.”*
* Carpenter, Cecilia Svinth, Fort Nisqually: A Documented History of Indian
and British Interaction. A Tahoma Research Publication. 1986. p13.
Yil-me-hu is published by the Nisqually Indian Tribe Natural
Resources Department and the Nisqually River Council to provide
information about activities associated with the protection and
restoration of salmon and their habitat in the Nisqually watershed.
If you wish to no longer receive this publication, please contact:
Ashley Von Essen, firstname.lastname@example.org.
4820 She-Nah-Num Drive SE, Olympia, WA 98513
Websites: www. nisquallyriver.org, www.nisqually-nsn.gov
Managing Editor: Ashley Von Essen
Writers/Editors: Rene Bracero, Christopher Ellings, Linsey Fields,
Morgan Greene, Justin Hall, Ed Kenney, Jed Moore, Emmett O’Connell,
Teeshia Osias, Cathy Sampselle, David Troutt, George Walter,
Claire Williamson, Sheila Wilson
Design: Nine Design
Printed with soy-based ink on recycled paper that is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
3 Director’s Corner
4 Volunteers: Champions of the
6 Nisqually Steelhead Habitat
7 Nisqually Community Forest Buys
First 640 Acres
8 Nisqually Delta Sea Lion Study
10 Nisqually Environmental Team
Reaches Out to the Community
12 Nisqually River Council Celebrates
30 years of Action
14 Nisqually River Education Project
– 2016 and Beyond!
15 Student GREEN Congress Turns 25
16 Salmon Watcher Monitors
Cover photo: A coho salmon recently
spotted hanging out in Powell Creek.
Photo by David Detrick.
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David is the Natural Resources Director for
the Nisqually Indian Tribe, Chair of the Salmon
Recovery Funding Board, Chair of Puget
Sound Salmon Recovery Council and Chair
of the Nisqually River Council.
It’s impossible to try to ignore the current state of our nation.
On a national level, we are a country divided. The news reports
daily of our administration’s skepticism of key environmental
issues, the ever-growing need for funding from an ever-shrinking
budget, and ultimately, whether these ecological concerns, such
as declining populations of ESA-listed
salmon and climate change, are worthy
of their precious dollars. Funding cuts
plague us on the State level as well,
putting many salmon recovery funding
sources, including the Salmon Recovery
Funding Board and Puget Sound
Acquisition and Restoration, in jeopardy.
Through all this, one thing we have
come to realize in our watershed is
that no matter what, the great work of
the Nisqually cannot and will not be
undone. Progress made in the
Nisqually Watershed is locally driven:
it is the people who live, work and
play here that have helped us accom-
plish so much. Certainly, the proposed
federal budget will challenge our
ability to move forward. Our federal
partners, including Mount Rainier National Park and the Billy
Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge may see signifi-
cant funding cuts, as could many other local organizations,
including the Nisqually Indian Tribe. Decreased funding may
limit our ability to put shovels in the ground and preserve
habitat needed by salmon and other wildlife, but money
doesn’t buy bravery and it doesn’t buy community support.
These are our Nisqually strengths.
Vocalizing your support can go a long way. We all need to
speak up and make sure our state and federal delegations know
exactly how much we depend on their support. They need to hear
how we stretch every dollar to get the most out of it and how we
leverage funding to restore critical habitat, protect our shorelines,
and conduct important research. And, they should know what
could happen without it. Without clean, cool water and places to
feed and spawn, salmon don’t stand a
chance. Furthermore, without salmon,
the vitality of Washington State’s
economy and social wellbeing declines.
No matter what is happening at our
State Capital or even at the White House,
it’s important to remember that we have
a watershed filled with champions. These
champions, our volunteers, dig out
Himalayan blackberry and pull Scotch
broom in the name of habitat restoration,
toss frozen salmon carcasses into the
Nisqually River on the coldest and
snowiest of days, and plant trees and
remove protective tubes in the pouring
rain. We have an incredible community
that continues to support us on the
ground every day and we have amazing
partners that forge ahead no matter the
financial future that may lurk ahead.
In the following pages, you’ll learn more about the volunteers
who monitor, restore, and enhance the Nisqually Watershed
from mountain to sea. You’ll meet the scientists and the organi-
zations who tackle innovative projects to protect our natural
resources. Those projects, and our progress, is possible because
of people like you.
Billy Frank Jr. always said that presidents and governors
come and they go, but we will always be here. This watershed
is our home.
Vocalizing your support
can go a long way.
We all need to
speak up and make sure
our state and
know exactly how much
we depend on
Photo by Jed Moore
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S P R I N G 2 0 1 74
Volunteers make a major contribution to restoring habitat in the
Nisqually Watershed by dedicating much time, energy and enthusiasm.
They survey fish and wildlife, install restoration plantings, perform
environmental monitoring and table at festivals. Volunteer planting
events are coordinated by a team of partners including the Tribe, the
Nisqually River Foundation (NRF), the Nisqually Land Trust (NLT),
and Pierce Conservation District, and are a big part of how our
salmon recovery restoration plantings get in
the ground. To give just one example, the
Ohop Restoration Project has involved hundreds
of volunteers through the years. Since 2009, over
700 adults and 2,200 students have contributed
over 6,000 hours and planted approximately 15,000
trees and shrubs in the Ohop Valley.
Volunteers play key roles in various ongoing environmental monitoring
efforts throughout the watershed that contribute to a better understanding
of salmon and wildlife habitat. For the last 25 years NRF has lead
bi-annual water quality sampling at 35 different sites on tributaries
and the mainstem. Gr oups of local students perform the sampling
with help from teachers and parents. The Tribe’s Salmon Watcher Program has been in place for 15 years:
volunteers monitor salmon during the spawning season at over 15 different sites. Volunteers also
document wildlife usage of the watershed through Northwest Trek’s NatureMapping program.
CHAMPIONS OF THE WATERSHED
Students help plant trees in the Ohop Valley.
The Nisqually Indian Tribe’s Salmon
Watcher Program asks volunteers
to look for salmon in their backyard
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Every year, the Tribe and NRF partner to present the Nisqually Stream Stewards training program. Across an eight week
period, participants attend free classes on biology and ecology of the watershed, tribal history and culture, salmon issues and
identification, and sustainable forestry among other topics. Following completion of the training program, volunteers make a
40-hour volunteer commitment. This is a great way to meet new people, network with local environmental groups, and learn
more about this beautiful area. Nisqually Stream Steward Warren Bergh has this to say about his experience: “The resources
provided by the staff and speakers are superb and the field experiences and hands on work bring life to our classwork. I have
enjoyed the opportunity to work with a diverse group of volunteers who share their ideas and concerns of the watershed. I
highly recommend volunteering with the Nisqually Stream Stewards.”
For the last two decades, restoration in the Ohop Valley has been a major priority for a number of local partners. This list of
partners is ever growing and we are excited to work with the most recent addition: Eatonville School District. The District is
developing a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) campus near Ohop Creek on property that was
transferred to the District by the NLT. A vegetable garden, a laboratory and a native plants healing garden are in the planning
stages. Students will have the opportunity to learn in an outdoor classroom while assisting with maintenance of the surrounding
restoration plantings or sampling benthic invertebrates in the creek. Hands-on learning in nature helps inspire a conservation
ethic in our youth, the future stewards of this great place in which we live.
There are many diverse volunteer opportunities coming up over the
next year. We are seeking volunteers to process images from the fish
counter camera on the mainstem of the Nisqually River and wildlife
cameras at Ohop Creek. Work parties will be held to maintain existing
restoration plantings, and install new plantings along the Mashel River.
The Nisqually Stream Stewards and Salmon Watchers programs are always
accepting new volunteers. Northwest Trek is also accepting volunteers for
their amphibian monitoring and NatureMapping programs. Other options
include helping out during the Nisqually Watershed Festival, Eatonville Salmon
Fest or during salmon carcass tossing events.
A big thanks to all of you who come out
and volunteer – we couldn’t do it without
For more information on the
Nisqually Stream Stewards program
or other volunteer opportunities:
Contact Justin and Sheila at
Stream Stewards graduate
Warren Bergh helps toss
frozen Chinook into
Nisqually Stream Stewards get a tour of the Clear Creek Hatchery
from the Tribe’s field crew supervisor, Nano Perez.
Justin Hall, NRF
lends a hand
Volunteers collect aquatic
insects to check the health
of local streams.
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S P R I N G 2 0 1 76
Nisqually River Foundation
field biologist Walker Duval
measures a culvert for fish
A backwatered segment of Horn Creek.
Each dot on the map represents a unique habitat feature along the streams. Access to
the streams was key to this pilot study’s success; green parcels are where permission
was granted, red means access was denied, and yellow is no response.
Caring for and conserving
the many salmon populations
in the Nisqually watershed has
long been important to the
region’s economic, cultural,
social and ecological values.
Winter steelhead were once
an abundant component of
the Nisqually ecosystem.
Since the late 1800s, many
factors have contributed to a
dramatic plummet in the pop-
ulation, including increasing
local seal and sea lion popula-
tions, the declining health of
Puget Sound, and barriers
blocking fish passage.
N I S Q U A L L Y
S T E E L H E A D
H A B I T A T
Steelhead are known to utilize habitat in both the
Nisqually River and the small creeks and streams
that run through our backyards. High quality fresh-
water habitat, no matter how small the stream, is a
key component of healthy steelhead populations
in the Nisqually watershed. In an effort to assess
the health and potential of these “backyard
habitats” the South Puget Sound Salmon
Enhancement Group (SPSSEG) partnered with the
Nisqually Indian Tribe to launch a pilot study in
Harts, Horn, and Brighton Creeks.
The project began in fall 2016 with a coordinated
landowner outreach effort amongst project
partners. As a result, a patchwork of access was
granted by targeted landowners. A small field
crew comprised of biologists from the Nisqually
Indian Tribe, the Nisqually River Foundation,
and SPSSEG began assessing fish habitat in the
three streams identified. Biologists inventoried
and documented presence and absence of
pools, riffles and runs, substrate composition,
canopy cover, invasive vegetation and stream
widths. The project also assessed culverts and
unused dams for fish passage along both private
and public roadways.
By collecting GPS points, biologists have been able to map streams using
Geographic Information Systems, more commonly known as GIS. Mapping the
on-the-ground data collected provides a picture of habitat quality and quantity in
each stream segment and
its potential for steelhead
spawning and rearing, while
identifying future restoration
projects. This project has
proved to be an important
step towards steelhead
recovery. Projects partners
continue to collect data in
these reaches while planning
future phases in other
areas of the watershed.
Photo by Kirk Hanson
The NCF is a model for a new form of forest ownership and
management in the West. One of the most important things about
western Washington timber land is how productive they are. Timber
has generated wealth for many generations of Washingtonians,
generally through locally owned and managed operations. Pay and
profits stayed here, building our state’s wealth. Unfortunately this is
oft!en not the situation today. Much timberland is owned by
absentee owners, either distant corporations or investors with no long-term commitment to the industry itself. For example,
well over 50% of the commercial timberland in Pierce County is not locally owned. The NCF is a grass roots effort to return
forestlands back to local ownership and management.
On the East Coast, community forests have been a small but important part of the landscape for centuries. They give local
residents a stake in the management of forests they live near and are impacted by. Profits and jobs stay in the community. Forests
are managed to maximize forest health and environmental and recreational benefits while providing local economic support.
The goal of the NCF is to own at least 25,000 acres of forest lands primarily in the Mashel River Sub-basin and to manage
those lands to provide environmental, economic, and cultural benefits for Nisqually Watershed communities. Benefits
include the protection of clean air and water, promotion of healthy forests, streams and wildlife populations, and creation of
forestry, recreation, and tourism jobs.
The NCF is working on a deal to acquire an additional 1,280 acres adjacent to the property already purchased. At the same
time, NCF is developing plans to manage the forest that will result in the highest habitat benefits for salmon and wildlife,
while still providing timber, local jobs, and recreation opportunities.
Last year’s purchase was just the start of returning our forests back to local ownership and management!
Just before Thanksgiving 2016,
the Nisqually Community Forest
(NCF) bought its first 640 acres in
the upper Busy Wild portion of
the Mashel River sub-basin.
Photo by Jed Moore
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NISQUALLY DELTA SEA LION STUDY
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Nisqually Indian Tribe fishermen and Nisqually
Indian Tribe Natural Resources Department staff
have observed a dramatic increase in California
and Steller sea lion winter utilization of the
Nisqually Delta over the last decade. The sea lions
appear to time their migration to overlap with the
Nisqually winter chum salmon run, between late
November and late January. Nisqually winter
chum support a culturally and economically
important fishery for the Tribe and, until recently,
were generally considered healthy. Additionally,
the timing of the sea lion residency in the Delta
also overlaps with the Nisqually winter steelhead
run. Nisqually winter steelhead are listed as
‘threatened’ under the federal Endangered
Species Act. Nisqually steelhead have declined
from runs in excess of 7000 to around 600 fish over
the last 20 years and face extinction if marine
survival continues to decline. In order to determine
the impact of sea lions on both Nisqually winter
chum and Nisqually winter steelhead, the Nisqually
Fish Commission allocated some funding to
conduct a preliminary investigation.
The purpose of the study was to document the
approximate abundance, local distribution, and
feeding patterns of California and Steller sea lions
in the Nisqually Delta. Additionally, the study will
collect sea lion scat (a.k.a. poop) in order to
analyze their diet composition. The results of the
study will enable managers to better understand
the severity of sea lion predation on Nisqually
winter steelhead and Nisqually winter chum
Photos by Jed Moore
Results from the study are still being analyzed, but several interesting findings are:
n Biologists from the Nisqually Natural Resources Department and the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted over 285 hours of
sea lion observations between November 7 and February 3, 2016. Over that
time, the biologists observed 127 confirmed salmon/steelhead kills.
n Sea lions arrived and began foraging in the Nisqually in early December
but appear to enter Puget Sound in November with the earlier Puget
Sound Chum runs.
n The largest total count of seals and sea lions combined in the Nisqually
Reach was made at the Breakwater Derilect Barge on December 21: 65
Harbor Seals, 10 California Sea Lions, and 3 Steller Sea Lions. These counts
represent only a small percentage of the actual number of seals and sea
lions in the area at that time.
n The busiest day saw 32 confirmed kills in the estuary by approximately
12 sea lions and 10 seals.
n Most of the feeding occurred during slack tides, particularly the low slack.
n Sea lions moved upstream on incoming tides.
n Sea lions did not appear to respond to human observers and even made
kills right next to the boat, (assumed not intimidated by boat presence).
The next step in the study is to analyze the sea lion scat in order to determine
the total contribution of chum and steelhead to their diet. The diet composition
can be combined with the predation observations and the total counts of sea lions
in order to estimate the total number of chum and steelhead that may have been
consumed. This will enable managers to better account for chum and steelhead
mortality, greatly improving their ability to forecast run sizes and set fisheries.
A sea lion snacks on a chum salmon.
Jed Moore on the
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Lending a hand as support crew for the 2016 Paddle to Nisqually.
Students learn from Keoni Kalama about services offered
by the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s Marine Services program.
In 2015, the Nisqually Indian Tribe’s Department of Natural
Resources created a successful environmental outreach program,
known as the Nisqually Environmental Team (NET). NET
involves many partners who are committed to getting the
community together by promoting and encouraging environ-
mental stewardship, as well as tackling climate change issues.
The program has been able to build a bridge between the
tribal and surrounding communities.
2016 was a successful year for NET. The program has completed
or assisted many projects, including participating in salmon
carcass tosses, tree plantings, Salmon Camp, support crew for
the Paddle to Nisqually Canoe Journey, Gathers Rain community
events, and helping at Wa He Lut Indian School with water
quality and salmon lifecycle education. The NET also created a
climate change awareness brochure in partnership with
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Washington Office of
the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Office of Native
Education program, and the Sauk Suiattle, Squaxin Island, and
As NET grows, we expect positive outcomes to continue to
include new and rewarding challenges that will inspire our students
to pursue higher education and seek careers that promote culture,
tribal sustainability, and the health of natural resources.
Salmon Campers get a tour of the Nisqually Community Garden.
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Team Reaches Out to the Community
Community members learn about the importance of healthy habitat from
Photo by Caitlyn Kren
Photo by Erika Warren
Ongoing Programs for the NET include:
Internships and youth participation are key components of NET. The goal of the program is to introduce tribal youth to
natural resource professionals in hopes of inspiring the next generation of environmental champions. There are endless shadowing
opportunities in the program, including working at the Kalama and Clear Creek Hatcheries, assisting Nisqually Marine Services,
and coordinating the summer’s Salmon Camp.
Nisqually Salmon Camp is a summer program designed to educate youth about cultural and natural systems that define
the Nisqually watershed’s geography. One of the focuses of Salmon Camp is learning the history of the land, while studying the
Medicine Creek Treaty, the Boldt decision and Treaty Rights at Risk. The program works in partnership with the Nisqually Youth
and Community Center’s Summer Youth Program to provide youth a great opportunity to learn about natural resources career
pathways through hands-on experience opportunities.
Gathers Rain is a quarterly event that coincides with the
seasons of the salmon runs. NET collaborates with other
Nisqually Indian Tribe departments, including the Nisqually
Tribal Library and Head Start, to increase community involve-
ment, get the youth and tribal community interested, and to
communicate the importance of salmon and their life cycles.
The event focuses on sharing traditional knowledge and
current issues, such as climate change and other concerns that
fisheries are currently facing. At the event, people are exposed
to traditional cultural appreciation by listening to stories from
tribal fishermen and participating in educational activities.
There is also a raffle and a delicious traditional meal prepared.
Nisqually youth examine fish collected while beach seining with
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Meeting at the Ohop Grange in 2005.
In 1985, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill requiring
the formation of the Nisqually River Task Force, and the development
of the Nisqually River Management Plan. At first, the many people in
the room did not agree on a common path for the future. Tensions
arose and conflicts grew so intense that for almost the entire year, no
progress was made in developing a management plan. It was almost
a year later that Billy Frank Jr. – one of the key members of that Task
Force – began to pursue deeper connections with other members of the team. After a
while, the members realized that despite different opinions in management, they all really
wanted the same thing: a watershed that was healthy and able to support the plants,
animals and people who called it home.
That common sense of trust eventually led to the completion of the first Nisqually River
Management Plan and the formation of the Nisqually River Council (NRC) in 1987. The NRC
is made up of the voices of the Nisqually Watershed: Tribal, federal, state and local agencies,
non-profits, and local citizens all have voting seats at the table. Even more impressive is that
collaboration remains at the heart of the NRC. Over the last three decades, our collective
purpose has allowed the Nisqually Watershed to complete large-scale, innovative projects
that contribute to a healthier environment.
NRC says Farewell to
Over the years, the Nisqually River
Foundation has conducted a lot of inter-
views for a variety of positions. We can
safely say that the most interesting was
with Morgan Greene. Morgan interviewed for our
Climate Change AmeriCorps position from the back
of her car over Skype, outside of a closed library (to
use their Wi-Fi) in rural Oregon. Needless to say,
Morgan knocked that interview out of the park and
has continued to do that with every challenge given
to her over the last three and a half years.
Partnerships and collaboration have been two of the key reasons
so many successes stem from the Nisqually Watershed. The vision
that so many stakeholders share isn’t an accident: it’s been a 30
year work in progress!
Photo by Sheila Wilson
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The NRC in 2014 at Mount Rainier National Park.
Photo by Justin Hall
After completing her one year AmeriCorps position, we hired Morgan to coordinate
the Nisqually River Council. In addition to staffing the Nisqually River Council and the
Citizens Advisory Committee, Morgan completed the Nisqually Forest and Water
Climate Adaptation Plan, spearheaded the development of the Nisqually River Water
Trail, co-taught the ever popular Nisqually Stream Stewards Class, helped on a
number of Nisqually River Education Project student field trips, kick-started the
Foundation’s strategic planning process, and has just been generally indispensable.
She has had a lasting impact on the Nisqually Watershed.
However, the time has come for Morgan to leave us. At the end of April, Morgan
will be headed to new challenges in Alabama where her husband will be fulfilling a
lifetime dream to learn to fly helicopters with the US Army. Once you are a part of
the Nisquamily you can never truly leave, you just go to new places to spread the
love. Good luck, Morgan! You will be greatly missed!
As we celebrate our 30-year anniversary this year, we look back at
some of our successes over the years:
n The continuation and expansion of the 25-year Nisqually River
Education Project, which offers service-learning opportunities to
n Fostering a group of dedicated volunteers and citizen scientists
through the Nisqually Stream Stewards program, a joint program
with the Nisqually Indian Tribe
n Providing a platform for mutual respect and discussion, helping promote broad community support for innovative and large-scale
restoration projects, including the Nisqually Delta and Ohop Valley restoration sites
n Participating in the establishment of the Nisqually Community Forest, an effort to conserve local forestlands, benefit our watershed
communities and economies, and protect our clean waters
As we move into the future, maintaining our common purpose is more important than ever. Healthy lands, people and economies
depend on all of us working together. We hope that the NRC continues to provide a space for all stakeholders to come together to
share ideas, create solutions, and make a difference.
We invite you to join us as we continue to make the Nisqually Watershed a more sustainable place. The NRC meets on the third
Friday of each month; email email@example.com to be added to the mailing list. We hope to see you there!
The NRC in 1987, the very beginning.
Photo by Sheila Wilson
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For over 25 years, not only has the Nisqually River Education Project (NREP) has been educating youth
on environmental issues and the importance of the natural world, but also training these students to be
citizen scientists. Here’s what NREP has been up to during the 2016-2017 school year:
NREP led nearly 750 students in planting almost 2,500
native trees in shrubs in the 2016 planting season. Students
visited active restoration sites on Ohop, Muck, and Red
SALMON CARCASS TOSSING
Who doesn’t love tossing gooey, stinky
fish into the Nisqually? This past winter
281 students and approximately 40 parent
chaperones returned more than 20,000
lbs. of hatchery Chinook carcasses to the
Mashel River and upper Nisqually River.
EYE ON NATURE
Eye on Nature brought 398 local elemen-
tary and middle school students to the
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife
Refuge to learn ethnobotany, sound
mapping, and NatureMapping, a citizen
science project which teaches students
how to identify wildlife and record what
they see and where they see it.
NISQUALLY NEARSHORE FIELD TRIPS
For the third year, NREP worked with partners at the Nisqually
Reach Nature Center, National Fish and Oyster Company,
and the Puget Sound Restoration Fund to bring 228 students
from Pioneer Middle School, entire 6th grade, along with 23
parent chaperones out to explore the beach. New this year
was an updated field guide, which included new
plankton survey activities and information about how
ocean acidification affects shellfish survival and farming.
Photo by Morgan Greene
In 2016 Summer Teachers Institute had a
record-breaking 61 local educators sign up,
representing grades two through high
school. This three day workshop provides
continuing education opportunities for
teachers who participate in NREP, South
Sound GREEN, and Chehalis Basin
Education Consortium. This year’s topic was
Oceans: Ocean Acidification and Sea Level
Rise, and included a tour of the Chehalis
River aboard the Lady Washington and
visits to Twin Harbors and Lighthouse State
Parks to explore their beaches and learn
about local impacts of climate change.
NREP hosted two water
quality monitoring days in
October 2016 and February
2017 at 37 different sites
throughout the watershed.
and over 1,000 students
out to measure 6 different
Students were able to report
their data at the 25th Annual
Student GREEN Congress. A big thanks to all the
Want to volunteer with NREP?
Visit their website at:
email Sheila Wilson at
Photo by Sheila Wilson
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On March 23rd, the Nisqually River Education Project (NREP) and South Sound GREEN (SSG) hosted
the 25th annual Student GREEN Congress at the Evergreen State College. This event is the culmination
of two water quality monitoring days where students are able to compare data collected and brainstorm
ways to improve their local rivers and streams. Student delegates range from 4th grade through high
school and represent schools from the South Sound and Nisqually Watersheds.
This year, over 400 students represented their school in a
morning “State of the Rivers” session, sharing water quality data
and developing action plans to improve water quality in their com-
munities. In the afternoon, they attended educational workshops:
salmon carcass dissections, making bird boxes, getting up close
with stream bugs, shellfish tasting, Native American storytelling, fly
casting, live raptors, and much more.
Our 25th Anniversary is a special opportunity to recognize those
who work to keep the spirit of environmental stewardship alive and
recognize the importance of hands-on, science-based learning.
Students were welcomed to the event by Washington State Governor
Jay Inslee, who prepared a video address, and Maia Bellon, director
of the Washington Department of Ecology. The keynote speaker was
Gene Tagaban, a member of the Takdeintaan clan, who also known
as “One Crazy Raven.” Gene is an accomplished storyteller, speaker,
mentor, and performer.
Since its inauguration, Student GREEN Congress has reached
thousands of students and hundreds of teachers. From the students
who are just learning about their local habitats, to the teachers and
volunteers who have participated for decades, Congress is a day
of learning, gaining new skills, and adopting conservation plans to
better local watersheds and communities.
Delegates make their way to the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center at the Evergreen State College.
Photo by Amy Wilson
In afternoon workshops, participants take part in hands-on
activities hosted by local organizations. These students get
up close and personal with mussels and other marine critters.
Maia Bellon, the director of the Washington’s
Department of Ecology, shares the importance
of healthy rivers and streams.
Gene Tagaban shares
the art of storytelling
as he portrays “One
4820 She-Nah-Num Drive SE
Olympia, WA 98513
We have salmon fighting, salmon
splashing, salmon tail-walking and
salmon quivering as they spawn!
It was a snowy day in December
of 1980 when I first observed the
salmon spawning in our creek, the
largest tributary of the Nisqually
River on the Thurston county side.
My wife and I had just moved out
to this remote acreage to build a
solar-powered log cabin and raise
children off the grid. We saw many salmon that winter and the
next few. I guess we assumed they would always come back to
spawn and raise their own children off the grid. 30 years would
pass until we would watch those coho spawning again!
When we first moved out to Powell Creek, our drinking water
came directly from the creek. We would often see coho spawning
in the beautiful gravels in early December and sometimes late
into February as we filled our 5 gallon buckets. I knew they were
coho because, as a frequent salmon and steelhead fisherman, I
saw the white lips, maroon spawning colors and aggressively
hooked jaws of the males.
Then one year no salmon returned. We thought maybe it was
just a bad year for salmon. The next year there were no salmon
… and no salmon the next. We weren’t aware at first that three
culverts a couple miles downstream from our property had
failed and the salmon could no longer migrate upstream. When
efforts to get the local timber companies, state and county
agencies to repair these culverts yielded no results, my two
sons decided to raise Nisqually coho in our creek over a three
year period, sending over a million baby coho salmon back into
the Powell Creek system.
It was tough to see so many
carcasses of dead salmon below
the failed culverts downstream in
the years that followed.
Meanwhile, the Nisqually Land
Trust had begun to purchase
Powell Creek property, starting
in 1990 with the purchase of a
third of an acre. Sixteen years
later a landmark purchase of 260
acres followed and now the
Land Trust owns over 450 acres of Powell and Elbow Lake Creek
property below my house. The Land Trust worked with the
Nisqually Indian Tribe, The Nisqually River Council and South
Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement to prepare the way for this
year’s coho return.
Neighbors who live closest to the creek have seen a coho or
two each year since the three failed culverts were removed by
South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement in 2008 and a 50 foot
long bridge was installed in 2009. “Salmon watchers,” volun-
teering for the Tribe by spending 15 minutes a week at key sites,
have seen a couple more, but this is the first year that any of us
have seen the coho actually spawning. Before my neighbor
David Detrick filmed them, I had only seen a couple of single
coho females in the hundreds of hours I had spent walking the
creeks. After last year, which featured the lowest coho return on
the Nisqually in living memory, I had almost decided to abandon
any hope of ever spotting coho again in my creek.
The coho have not quite reached my house yet, but they’re
getting close. With just a bit more restoration, they’ve got a
fighting chance to reach their historic habitat.
Photo by David Detrick
MY NEIGHBORS AND I ARE SO EXCITED BY THIS YEAR’S SIGHTINGS OF COHO SALMON SPAWNING
IN THE POWELL CREEK AND ELBOW LAKE CREEK TRIBUTARIES OF THE NISQUALLY RIVER THAT WE
CAN BARELY CONTAIN OURSELVES!
Salmon Watcher Monitors Progress in Backyard Stream— by Ed Kenney